Almost all feature films make use of a background score to direct, or even nakedly manipulate, the viewer’s emotions. In fact, the easiest way to invest a scene with drama is to throw a drum-and-synthesiser behind it. But Yann Tiersen’s piano-based score for Wolfgang Becker’s comedy Good Bye Lenin (2003) seems, to my ear, a high point of film music.
The plot of Becker’s movie is that of a zany comedy. A woman in communist East Germany in the 1980s falls into a coma; as she lies in hospital, the Berlin Wall falls, and a united Germany says goodbye to communism. When she recovers the doctors emphasise to her children the necessity of avoiding any unpleasant shocks. But the woman was a diehard party worker, and so her teenaged son, through whose eyes the film is told, tries his best to manufacture around her the old communist universe, with its state-made products, sententious television programming, and chronic shortages.
Tiersen’s gentle, ruminative score, full of bittersweet cascading notes, turns a good film into a great one, managing, from this story of a quest to resuscitate a disappearing world, to evoke the universal human nostalgia for things past – our search, to use Proust’s phrase, for lost time.